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File:Sympathetic-ineffectual-villain batman-carpenter 5195.jpg

"No! Metal handcuffs - my only weakness!"

"Spike, I don't know what upsets me more; that you deliberately tried to set up Owlowiscious, or that you actually thought this pathetic attempt would work!"

A potential villain who is consistently a failure or never gets the respect that he thinks he deserves, and may even be angry that the heroes don't take him seriously.

He may not necessarily be inept or have a laughably mild idea of what counts as villainy. Villain Decay is usually too simple an explanation. This is sometimes a relative situation, and the hero's Rogues Gallery just happens to include people more showy, better financed, or just plain scarier than him.

This does not mean that he doesn't bear animosity; that's a Punch Clock Villain. He's probably jumping at the opportunity to outdo his rivals and the hero. But there is something about his perseverance or attitude about the whole thing that is just short of sympathetic.

May also be a Determinator out of necessity or overlap with Draco in Leather Pants. If they get even more pathetic in regard to the hero, Unknown Rivalry looms. Just watch out, they may suddenly turn out to be Not So Harmless.

Video Game versions of this trope frequently overlap with the Goldfish Poop Gang if they are just as pathetic in actual battle as they're treated by the story. They may maintain threat status if Conservation of Competence allows them to keep competent supporters. also see

Examples of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain include:

Anime and Manga

  • Mousse from Ranma One Half is a loser whose plots against Ranma go only so far before backfiring spectacularly. He's usually played as an unrepentant jerk, although maybe once a season, he'd get a moment of quiet reflection for the audience to sympathize with him — right before going back to his old ways, naturally.
    • Both the ineffectual and sympathetic aspects are ironic, because Mousse is the most ruthlessly homicidal of Ranma's regular rivals. Kuno simply wants to humiliate Ranma and get both Akane and "the pig-tailed girl"; his weapon is just a bokken. Ryoga initially enters the series with an apparent intent to kill, but settles down for pretty much just wanting to steal Akane away and be able to claim that he's better than Ranma after the early Martial Arts Figure Skating story. By contrast, Mousse spends most of the series willing to do just about anything to kill Ranma, routinely using bladed and impaling weapons and attacking with ambushes. He even comments once on being willing to slip poisonous mushrooms into Ranma's food.
      • Perfect example: in "The Ryoga-Mousse Alliance", Mousse tries to kill Ranma by shackling him to a giant bomb. Even though they almost win as a result of teaming up, Ryoga swears to never stoop so low again. At the end, you can almost feel sorry for him when Shampoo comes upon the battered Mousse, misunderstands, and tells him "You know you no can win Ranma all by own self. Why you always be such stupid duck?" She pedals away while he quacks frantically, unable to explain.
  • Principal Uchimiyada on Great Teacher Onizuka often plots to get rid of Onizuka, and yet is portrayed as less of a threat than the troubled students in Onizuka's class, like Miyabi, Urumi, and (towards the end of the manga) Sho.
  • Jessie and James of Team Rocket, especially in the Fourth Wall-breaking 4Kids version of Pokémon. They are so pathetic, you can't help but feel sorry for them. They even occasionally team up with the heroes when the fate of the world is at stake, showing that they're not really evil — just misguided and incompetent. Ironically, they usually stop being ineffectual whenever they stop being villains.
    • Meowth as well.
    • However, the three all got their happy ending in Best Wishes. And by "happy ending", they...
  • Martina, the anime-exclusive Guest Star Party Member and fallen princess from the second season of the Slayers anime, who only knows how to perform minor curses and can't defend herself at all. She spends the first half of the season trying to get revenge on Lina and her friends for destroying her home, and fails every time; after that, she decides to tag along with them. She does decide to help Lina out morally during the final battle, though.
  • Dorodoran in Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star. Unlike most Pretty Cure villains, he's trying as hard as he can from the start, and is increasingly frustrated and upset by his repeated failures. When he finally comes close to victory, it all evaporates due to sabotage by Michiru and Kaoru. It's hard not to feel sorry for him.
  • Zeta Gundam had Jerid Mesa, who ended up becoming the Designated Rival for the show's protagonist, got into a vicious cycle of each killing the other's friends and/or lovers in battle, and eventually was killed when the hero threw his mobile suit into an exploding battleship.
  • Jeremiah Gottwald from Code Geass, who began the show as the military equivalent of a Jerk Jock, but made the mistake of crossing Lelouch, which left him disgraced, hated, and saddled with the ignoble nickname "Orange". His enormous popularity spared him from a planned quick death, resulting in his returning later as an Ax Crazy cyborg. Just to crank up the sympathy another few notches, the side materials revealed that Jeremiah was a palace guard on the day Empress Marianne was killed, and based his entire career on an attempt to atone for failing not only Marianne, but her children, who disappeared in Japan, leading him to think that they were killed by the Japanese, which prompted his racism against Elevens, which resulted in Lelouch (Marianne's supposedly-dead son) publicly humiliating him. Whoops...In the second season, Jeremiah was sent by the Geass Order to assassinate Lelouch, revealed that he was still loyal to Marianne, and when Lelouch admitted that avenging his mother was one of his main reasons for becoming Zero, "Orange-Boy" immediately dropped his thirst for vengeance and became Lelouch's retainer.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 had Patrick Coulasour, an ace in 'simulated' combat, who quickly develops a one-sided rivalry with the Gundams after being publicly humiliated by them in the first episode, only to be dispatched in a similar fashion when he returns later. As with Jeremiah, fans latched onto him, giving him the nickname "Team Patrick". He eventually latches onto his commanding officer, Kati Mannequin, and goes on to be shot down another 5 or 6 times, even after switching sides.
  • Excel in Excel Saga at times. She really wants to help her Lord Il Palazzo's plans to take over the world, but she fails so badly at every mission given to her. Often subverted though by following a sympathetic moment with doing or saying something disturbing.
  • Viral from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, who does not have Spiral Power like the protagonists and thus can only watch as they reach ever increasing heights of power. By the time the heroes reach the Spiral King himself, Viral, even given immortality and a four-armed upgrade to his Humongous Mecha, is swatted aside by Simon as if he is a humorous interlude.
  • Harry Champ from Zoids New Century, though he's more of a rival than a villain per se. Major Polta is certainly ineffectual, but does very little to garner sympathy aside from kidnapping Leena.
    • There's also the Zabre Fangs; though they do prove to be worthy opponents a few times in the series, they're mostly comic relief, and, in fact, lose their final battle against the Blitz Team when their Zoids do a Face Fault and malfunction from the fall.
  • Doctor West from Demonbane is basically just an anime Jack Spicer.
  • Kinkotsuman and Iwao from Kinnikuman are complete losers, plain and simple, who can't seem to do anything right. Of course, they're also kind of a subversion, because Kinnikuman is just as big a loser. Also, sometimes, when they aim high, they miss high. Like when Kinkotsuman accidentally shot Terryman in the leg when he was aiming for Kinnikuman, and Terryman ended up having to have his leg amputated (this is only in the manga, since in the TV series, Terryman eventually gets better, but the toned-down anime scene still is sad for poor Terryman).
  • Emperor Pilaf and his assistants from Dragon Ball.
    • Only once does Pilaf (almost) get what he wants...he manages to successfully get a wish from Shen Long in the first episode of Dragonball GT. However, instead of wishing for what he wanted, he shouts in frustration at Goku (who showed up just as the dragon was summoned) "I wish you were a kid again!" - not as an actual intended wish, but because Goku was so much easier to defeat as a child.
  • Japoli, Katejin, and Enge, the Punch Clock Villains of Overman King Gainer who are completely incompetent in their jobs, and are only a threat if they have Overman. They are the main source of comic relief with the Siberian Railroad.
  • Feliciano/Italy in Axis Powers Hetalia, an odd example of an ineffectual sympathetic villain title character semi-protagonist. He really only gets the title of villain because the manga is set predominantly in the WWII era. If further explanation of that is needed...
  • Lilynette, Stark's Token Mini-Moe fraccion from Bleach. She's currently fighting Ukitake, who is one of the 5 most powerful shinigami in existence. The fight so far has consisted of Ukitake telling her that he doesn't want to fight a little girl and simply deflecting or dodging every attack she threw at him. Currently, he's playing keep-away with her Zanpaktou as she cries at him to give it back and threatens over and over again to kill him.
    • And then she merges with Stark and they descend into full out loner Woobie territory — turns out, Lilynette is Stark's Imaginary Friend turned real due to sheer loneliness.
    • Or Stark is her Imaginary Friend. He states for both of them that they've been together so long that he can't even remember who is the real one anymore.
    • Ukitake even lectures the girl on how her determination is admirable, but she simply lacks the ability to 'fight' him properly (i.e take the sword back). She fires a cero, he deflects it with his hand. No wonder she was pissed off.
  • Hannyabal from One Piece. Initially presented as The Starscream, but eventually shows that he has it where it counts when the going gets tough.
    • Also from One Piece is the Laughably Evil Gonk, Foxy the Silver Fox, particularly in the anime where he gets more screen time. He's relatively Weak but Skilled and has only built up such a large crew because he won them in games stacked in his favor, but they seem to genuinely enjoy serving under him because of the fun carnival atmosphere of the Davy Back Fights.
  • Buaku from Dominion Tank Police and his sidekicks, the Puma sisters. They've always been wannabe Magnificent Bastards, but they were slightly more competent in the manga. Granted, their failures are rarely their own fault, discounting their lack of foresight.
  • Heavy Metal L-Gaim's Gavlet Gabre is a particularly jarring example. He's introduced as the primary rival, but never once defeats the protagonist, Daba Myroad. During the final battle at Sveto, he fails to defeat the unimportant and generic villain Rockley Ron, which makes the later the sole villain who makes it out of the show without being captured or killed.
  • In Baccano, this spot is owned by Dallas Genoard, who isn't all that sympathetic, but is more than ineffectual enough to make up for it.
  • Many a member from a Quirky Miniboss Squad in the Sailor Moon anime falls into this trope. The noteworthy examples are Jadeite from the Shittenou, Ail and En from the Maikaju filler arc, Eudial and Mimette from the Witches 5, the Amazon Trio, and both Sailor Iron Mouse and Sailor Aluminum Siren from the Sailor Animamates.
  • Kurumi, Kurumi, Kurumi. As of the end of the anime's first season, she still hasn't caught a break despite confessing to Kazehaya and tearing down what was left of her fake persona — or if she has, it was offscreen.
  • Keroro from Keroro Gunsou probably counts. His schemes to conquer Earth always seem to end in disasters of some kind, when he's not being sidetracked saving the world from other alien invaders or something.
  • Ika Musume is a superhuman being with Combat Tentacles and a strong desire to conquer the human race. She has a bit of trouble getting to the conquering part.
  • King Dedede in Kirby of the Stars is the kind of guy who wants respect from the Cappies, and just wants to beat up Kirby for the sake of it, which is why he buys Demon Beasts/monsters online from Holy Nightmare/Nightmare Enterprises. Of course, Kirby always wins the day, so Dedede never gets the respect he wants. To be fair, Dedede isn't really all that bad, he's just mean, misunderstood, and a completely incompetent half-wit.

Eastern Animation

  • The South Korean mice in the propaganda-tastic North Korean series A Squirrel and a Hedgehog. The pair, consisting of domineering Jerkass Mulmangcho and his meeker, one-eared companion Yelipalip, migrate from faction to faction amongst the villains, and are consistently mistreated and abused. All of their efforts to prove their worth, do something evil, and make it higher up in the ranks of whichever group they're currently attached to inevitably fail, miserably and pitifully, usually thanks to the heroes. More than once, the two are actually arrested and imprisoned by their own bosses and almost executed because they got the blame for what the undercover good guys, Geumsagi and Juldarami, did. So far, they have always managed to somehow get out of such situations alive. Although they clearly want to be evil and respected (Mulmangcho more so than Yelipalip), they fail so often and so pitifully it's difficult not to feel bad for them.
    • It should also be noted that this was originally an evil trio of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains, but the third guy, Mulsajo, whose distinguishing characteristic was that he wore a pink shirt, was even more ineffectual than his comrades and was blown up with a grenade midway through one of the earlier story arcs, leaving just his two buddies to carry the mantle of constantly failing.

Comic Books

  • Some Batman villains can fit this trope, Depending on the Writer:
    • The Riddler is often treated as slightly less of a threat than most of Batman's gallery because his particular lunacy isn't inherently violent, and he has a compulsion to tell Batman and the police what his plans are (he's tried not to, but he just can't). It's tough to write a Riddler plot that can believably challenge many writers don't, essentially writing him as a joke. The difficulty of writing good Riddler stories may also be a factor in the character's recent Heel Face Turn, wherein he decided to use his genius for puzzles to solve crimes as a (well paid) private least for NOW...
      • One issue of Batman Adventures takes this and runs with it for all it's worth. The Riddler decides to try one last time to beat Batman, vowing that if Batman solves the riddle and defeats him, he'll give up crime forever. The riddle he comes up with really is good, but Batman's busy with multiple other villains and essentially decides to not spend time on the Riddler, and catch him after the fact if necessary. He catches him anyway, completely by chance, and admits as much to the Riddler when asked how he solved the puzzle. Satisfied that he outwitted Batman, even though he got caught, Riddler sings all the way back to Arkham.
    • Similarly, the fact that the Penguin is perfectly sane may have contributed to his mutation into a gray market white-collar criminal who Batman is grudgingly willing to tolerate as a source of information on the criminal underworld.
    • The Baffler is a second-rate version of Cluemaster, which makes him a third-rate Riddler.
    • The Arkham Asylum Living Hell miniseries introduced several such villains, mixed with Arkham regulars, such as the Junkyard Dog who goes through garbage. Seriously, that's his gimmick. Others included Doodlebug, who paints (although he's a definite example of Not So Harmless), and Magpie, who really, really likes shiny things.
    • Humpty-Dumpty, who is so delightfully inoffensive that even calling him a villain is a big stretch. Even when one learns that there's a good reason that he's in Arkham, one kinda feels sorry for him; he has an obsession with fixing things by taking them apart and putting them back together again, because his whole life has been a string of disasters, one after another. Unfortunately, his attempts to fix things only make them run worse. His attempts to fix stuff like a subway train, an elevator, and a clock tower have lead to people getting hurt or even killed. And, of course, he murdered his abusive grandmother when he tried to take her apart and put her together again.
    • Condiment King, an absurd parody of gimmick villains, is this trope with a lampshade. Just dangerous enough to be worthy of Batman and Robin's attention, he has at least the potential to be a real threat (think "mustard gas", for just one example). However, in practice, he repeatedly gets defeated in a single page. Because he's an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, he keeps getting parole.
    • Jenna Duffy, aka The Carpenter (see trope image), was a member of Tweedledee and Tweedledum's "Wonderland Gang", but had the sense to get out of supervillainy and to work exclusively actual carpenter. Her specialty (who do you think builds all those deathtraps in Gotham?) can still get her into trouble, however.
  • The Marvel Universe's Toad is a classic example of this. He has second-rate powers, a stupid nickname, and an even stupider real name (Mortimer Toynbee). Understandably, he hated himself. However, the first X-Men live action film, with the character played by Ray Park, changed him into a wry villain with more self-respect and redefined powers that are actually scary in their deadliness — managing to become his own Canon Immigrant (in particular, his Ultimate Marvel incarnation is much more badass than his first one).
  • The Shocker from Spider-Man:
    • He almost revels in his second-rate status, remarking on one occasion that at least it keeps him off the radar of guys like The Punisher.
    • Not that this makes him particularly successful:

 Captain America: What the hell do these kids [the Young Avengers] think they're doing?

Spider-Man: Making the Shocker look like an idiot. Which--granted--isn't tough, but is always entertaining.

    • In one story, a group of heroes are moving through a superhuman prison, vigorously expositing about the potential damage that the villain they're after could cause. In the process, they run by The Shocker's cell.

 Wolverine, smirking: "Yeah, we wouldn't want the Shocker to get out - then we'd really be in trouble."

The Shocker, arms crossed petulantly: "Shut up!"

    • He's fallen to the point that he no longer appears on the local news' supervillain alerts even though Stilt-Man did. Desperate, he teams up with a similarly washed-up Hydro-Man to knock over ONE bank and retire. You feel pretty bad for him when Spider-Man not only stops them, but the Shocker accidentally evaporates Hydro-Man and injures himself to the point that his ribs are sticking out of his chest. "You always said I looked like a pincushion..."
    • But contrary to his reputation, the Shocker actually has a fairly high success rate against Spidey. He once proved himself to be Not So Harmless when he captured Spidey and, in a fit of rage, delivered a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown that nearly killed him. Even The Hood mentioned that he had great respect for the guy.
      • Another time he teamed up with fellow loser the Trapster (see below), had Spidey at their mercy and only didn't kill him due to suddenly getting a call from their boss informing them that their pay would be doubled if Spidey lived. Ever the pragmatist, Shocker accepted though he remarked that if he killed him, he would "save a fortune on therapy bills".
    • While the "regular" Shocker has his moments of competence and Not So Harmless, his Ultimate Marvel counterpart consistently fits this trope.
  • Daredevil villain Stilt-Man. A man whose suit of Powered Armor offers some minimal amount of protection while making him very tall. One of the more baffling villains of his era, writers gave up on revamping him into a serious threat a long time ago. Since then, whenever you needed a really pathetic villain to beat up, Stilt-Man was your guy. Eventually, The Punisher killed him. For all that, his wife, Princess Python, was pretty hot, so perhaps Stilt-Man was effective in other areas.
    • While Stilt-Man may be dead, his legacy lives on in...Lady Stilt-Man! Her first appearance consisted of being mocked by Spider-Man (who thanked her for improving the miserable day he was having), and being defeated by stepping into an open manhole. Even Spider-Man felt sorry for her when she started crying. This change in her next appearance in "Villains for Hire", where she upgraded her armor and Took a Level In Badass.
  • Rhino sometimes gets this treatment. Recently, he underwent a Heel Face Turn, but this is doomed to fail
    • There was a two issue story about him in a Spider-Man spinoff focusing on the various other characters in Spidey's life, with his idiocy being what makes him so pathetic. However, he ends up becoming super-intelligent via super science and ends up getting the girl and becoming the strongest crime boss in New York, along with figuring out Spider-Man's true identity. He goes back to being dumb, however, when he ends up being miserable by not being able to connect with people anymore.
  • Slyde. A villain who claims that his parents were gunned down by the Incredible Hulk and Captain America, and whose primary mode of attack is the "Slyde Punch", which is just a jab to the ribs. He gets taken down and hauled off to jail with incredible speed. As it happens, he's just a guy going through a midlife crisis who decided to go toe-to-toe with Spider-Man instead of just buying a Corvette or something.
  • Though the rat creatures in the comic Bone are quite fearsome in force, the nameless two most commonly seen around the valley where the protagonists live are pretty pathetic on their own. They want to eat the story's protagonist, but they do themselves more harm than anyone else with their bumbling. Their constant bickering over whether to bake the Bones into a quiche is also quite endearing.
    • A trilogy of junior novel sequels even have them as two of the chosen heroes. Well, more like Token Evil Teammates, really.
  • Marvel's Porcupine was a rare example of a Heel Face Turn from this type, although it went wrong. The villain initially created his battlesuit to sell to the military, but for some reason, they weren't interested (perhaps it was because it looked goofy). He became a particularly pathetic supervillain, to the point that when he tried to sell the battlesuit to other villains, they also turned him down. He then turned to the Avengers for assistance, only to be killed by his own costume when he decided to do the right thing and double-cross the Serpent Squad.
  • The DCU villain Dr. Light started out as a formidable foe capable of taking on the Justice League single-handed, but was a victim of severe Villain Decay in the Bronze Age and Post-Crisis eras, mostly notable for being repeatedly defeated by kids. And while defeat at the hands of the Teen Titans isn't all that shameful, he was also humiliated by Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, a team of non-powered pre-teens! That all changed with his rape-the-wife moment in Identity Crisis.
  • The entire Injustice League, which consisted of Major Disaster, Cluemaster, Clock King, Big Sir, Multi-Man, and Mighty Bruce. Individually, they were talented in some area, if lacking in others. As a group...they're still a bunch of losers. Here's how bad their luck is — while staying in Europe, they happened to attend the same French as a Second Language class as the Justice League. And this was following a bank robbery that was thwarted by the fact that none of them could effectively communicate the idea of "This is a stickup" in French.
  • Bolphunga the Unrelenting, from Green Lantern. A Large Ham villain, notable for using an axe against power-ring wielding space cops, and for attempting to take on Mogo.
  • Turk, the pettiest of the petty hoods in Harlem, in the Daredevil comics.
  • A good unseen character example is Captain Carnage from Watchmen, killed by falling down an empty elevator shaft.
    • Not quite, Captain Carnage was Rorshach'd down an elevator shaft. Which could happen to anyone really.
  • The All-New Orb from Ghost Rider is a man with a giant eyeball for a head and a repulsor ray gun. Captain America describes the problem as "nobody takes him seriously enough to put him in an actual cell." He's not quite Not So Harmless since he's yet to prove a proper threat to any superhero thus far, but he's more dangerous than he looks.
  • Marvel Comics' Paste-Pot Pete had one of the more unfortunate villainous monikers in supervillainy. Even after changing his name to "The Trapster" and becoming more effective in his use of specialized glues and pastes, he still gets ragged on mercilessly about his old name by the likes of Spider-Man and the Human Torch.
  • Astro City has Glue-Gun, an obvious Expy of Paste-Pot Pete. His only major appearance to date showed him invading a superheroes' dinner club, only to be taken out by the busboy he was holding hostage.
  • The pirates and Romans in the Asterix books.
  • Iznogoud the Infamous, the ever-scheming but hapless Grand Vizier to the Caliph, who merely wants "to become Caliph instead of the Caliph."
  • Captain America villain Batroc the Leaper is one of the most skilled fighters in the Marvel Universe, yet he almost always loses and never gets any respect. Thankfully, the good captain actually seems to like him.
    • Taken to another level in an issue of Marvel Adventures Avengers, in which Captain America's old enemy tries to reform and ends up inadvertently roping the Avengers into a somewhat amoral scheme to promote an internet dating business.
    • Batroc is an interesting case, as he's only 'ineffective' when he's fighting Steve one-on-one. When working for someone like Zemo, or fighting other heroes, he can be scarily effective. See his effortless beat down of the super-strong mercenary Paladin and his clashes with Bucky Barnes.
      • It was also noted in a comic about one of Marvel's superprisons that since Batroc's abilities all come from a lifetime of training, people like him are the most dangerous in supervillain prisons, as most of the villains either have their powers sealed or their tech taken away. Another name dropped in that vein is the Kangaroo, of all people.
      • Even Batman himself commends Batroc on his speed and skills after defeating him (off-panel) in Volume 4 of JLA-Avengers.
  • Carface, who Huntress made quick work of.
  • Rainbow Raider in The Flash became this, once going so far as to attend a villainy motivational seminar in a futile effort to stop losing all the time. Neron once sent him an invitation to his upgrades-for-souls meeting just so the Trickster could steal it from him.


  • Kaa, from Disney's The Jungle Book. His interest in Mowgli occasionally bordered on the paedophilic, though. Unlike in the book, where he's a benevolent Badass Old Master.
  • Captain Hook. After a while, you just start to hate Peter for being so darn mean to the Captain.
  • Peter Lorre in M. And again in Casablanca. And in The Maltese Falcon. And Arsenic and Old Lace. In fact, Peter Lorre in general.
    • Peter Lorre in Mad Love; all of the sympathy, three times the creepiness. Fairly efficient, given how nuts he was.
    • Exception: he was pretty unsympathetic and effective in Casino Royale 1954. And as Mister Moto, he's a two-fisted detective hero.
    • Further exception: he's the hero in the film of The Mask of Dimitrios (aka A Coffin for Dimitrios), and Sydney Greenstreet, who was usually the more competent villain to Lorre's ISV, is the ISV of this film.
  • On the other hand, Elisha Cook, Jr. made Peter Lorre look lucky. At least Lorre survived most of the above examples (and in Arsenic and Old Lace, he even pulled off a Karma Houdini). The same can't be said for poor Elisha in Phantom Lady, The Big Sleep, Born To Kill (where, shortly before his character's death, he tries to menace a little old lady, only to have the little old lady kick his ass!), or The Killing. In Shane, he's practically a good guy version of this trope. But the best example of how much worse off Cook is compared to Lorre is in The Maltese Falcon, where they're both ISVs. Sam Spade disarms and humiliates Cook's Wilmer far more often than he does Lorre's Joel Cairo, despite the fact that Wilmer's a multiple murderer and Cairo isn't. And at the end, their mutual boss (and possibly more) Casper Guttman sells out Wilmer to the authorities while happily walking off arm in arm with Cairo (although they all end up in jail). Joel Cairo may be more pathetic than you, but Wilmer is even more pathetic than Cairo.
    • Cook's character in House on Haunted Hill, though hardly villainous, is quite ineffectual and sympathetic. He just had the right face for the part.
    • One critic said of Cook that 'his very appearance seems like an invitation to destroy him'.
  • Inspector Clouseau, originally intended as an incompetent version of Inspector Javert in the original The Pink Panther, managed to be so much more sympathetic than protagonist Charles "The Phantom" Lytton that he was retooled into the hero of the film's sequels.
    • In the following film, A Shot in the Dark, Clouseau transmitted this ISV condition to his boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (soon to become the former Chief Inspector Dreyfus). Dreyfus is actually a good detective who, it's implied, would never have gone Ax Crazy if it hadn't been for Clouseau. After his Face Heel Turn, poor Dreyfus has to look on helplessly as Clouseau survives all of Dreyfus' numerous murder attempts solely due to the dumbest of dumb luck.
      • And THEN, in Son of the Pink Panther, Dreyfus gets a reboot into sympathetic, if not protagonist, at least The Woobie status, as his complete descent into Axe Crazy has apparently been retconned out of existence and him back INTO existence. He even gets the girl with the down side of now being the stepfather to his late nemesis Clouseau's long-lost son. Still the Butt Monkey, if not the ISV.
  • Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter in Laura. This is how his own girlfriend sums him up:

 "He's no good, but he's what I want. I'm not a nice person, Laura, and neither is he. He knows I know he's just what he is. He also knows that I don't care. We belong together because we're both weak and can't seem to help it. That's why I know he's capable of murder.[2] He's like me."

  • "Bowler Hat Guy" in Meet the Robinsons. He becomes dramatically more sympathetic further into the movie.
  • Muerte ("name for death!") in Undercover Blues. Muerte's reputation on the streets is hinted at as being formidable, but his utterly humiliating defeat at the hands of Jeff Blue quickly turned him into one of these. Every lost tooth just makes him that much more lovable.
  • Sol and Vince, the loser duo of pawnshop crooks who try their hand at the big(ger) leagues, in Snatch. It does not go well for them.
  • Gargamel, mostly, comes off as this in The Smurfs. Until he gets his hands on Smurf Essence, that is.
  • Prince Edward in Braveheart. He tries so hard to meet his father Longshanks' expectations, but he never does.


  • Prince (later King) Korin, The Dragon (although the Big Bad dies first) of Lynn Flewelling's Tamír Trilogy...although, especially towards the end, he ends up less sympathetic than merely pitiful. In real-world history, kings like him tended to end up with the sobriquet of "The Unready".
  • While Sloan in the Inheritance Cycle has certainly done some terrible things — killing a man, selling out his village to man-eating mooks, and bullying the protagonist in his younger years — it's revealed that he did everything out of love for his daughter, and so lies on a fuzzy line between this trope and Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • Antorell the wizard in Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. His father, Zemenar, is the series' closest thing to a Big Bad (in the first three books, anyway), and Antorell wants to be favored by him, but he — and pretty much everyone else — sees him as largely inept, to the point that the heroes will often talk about him as if he wasn't in the room. He's never really presented as a sympathetic character, and he spends much of his time trying to kill the series' main female protagonist (or maybe's sometimes hard to tell if he hates her, likes her, or both), but he's so bad about it that he's hardly ever presented as a threat, he never catches a break, and is all in all just so pathetic that it's hard not to feel a little bad for the guy.
  • Toward the end of the sixth Harry Potter novel and through all of the seventh, Draco Malfoy has this role. He's pretty much forced into more overtly villainous acts (apart from being a male Alpha Bitch and jerk) by the threat of Voldemort killing him and his parents. Also noticeable is that while in the past, Harry and friends hated Draco, they instead see him as pathetic, and keep saving him even as he keeps trying to do successful evil against them.
  • Some of the more incompetent Mooks in the Redwall series fall into this category.
  • 'Evil Harry Dread' from The Last Hero.
    • Not so ineffectual, actually. Even with horrible help (which he intentionally looks for, too), he still manages to be a somewhat legitimate threat...Or he would, except the Code keeps him from being more then a Card-Carrying Villain. Remember though, like the Barbarian heroes he travels with for much of the story, he's lived to be very, very old in a profession that regularly has him facing some of the most dangerous individuals in the world (I.E. the heroes he's travelling with).
  • Vaurien Scapegrace from Skulduggery Pleasant. His major goal in life is to be "Killer Supreme". Not only does he not manage to kill anyone until two whole books after his initial appearance, but he ends up being killed himself and turned into a zombie before even that.
  • Chichikov in Dead Souls becomes this effectively.
  • Chaunzaggaroth is this for the first couple of books.

Live Action TV

  • The Stillman Sisters from an episode of Charmed, entitled "The Power of Three Blondes". They are trying to steal the Halliwell sisters' powers and prove that they're more than just dumb blondes, and they come oh-so-close to succeeding at both.
  • Dr. Clayton Forrester of Mystery Science Theater 3000 springs to mind. As his character brief in the show's official Episode Guide puts it, "His passion for depravity far exceeds his aptitude."
  • Harmony from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after she became a vampire. She's evil, but other than that, she's still that teenage girl who wants to have friends and be loved. She is willing to kill her friends and allies, but at the very same time, she sincerely likes them and does not want them to be angry at her.
    • That said, the fact that she murders people to drink their blood (she is a vampire, after all) makes her somewhat less sympathetic.
    • This finally starts working for her in Angel, where she ends up being promoted out of the typing pool to Angel's secretary because she's a friendly face, admittedly one last seen trying to feed them to a group of vampires. Even when she betrays them again, Angel doesn't hold it against her, and actually prepared a reference for her so she can get a new job.
    • The Trio also start out this way. They quickly become less sympathetic — though not less ineffectual, however, as even Warren murdering Tara was an accident. He meant to kill Buffy.
      • Oh, no - Jonathan remains sympathetic, and actually becomes less evil as the other two get worse - he even helps Buffy defeat Warren. Andrew is less so than Jonathan since he enjoys committing crimes, but he's still so pathetic that even after he kills Jonathan (while manipulated by the First), he's such a failure at serving it that he's caught easily and held prisoner in Buffy's own house. Once he finally realises that real life is not a game, however, he shows enormous guilt over his actions, crying for the friend he killed and finishing his 'for posterity' recording by stating that not only does he expect to die, but feels he deserves to. He pulls a Heel Face Turn and survives the final battle.
    • Spike is a mixture of this and Draco in Leather Pants. It's why he had a sizable fan following even when he was pathetic and laughably useless.
  • Halfway through his Villain Decay and before his (grudging) Heel Face Turn, Crais of Farscape became this, having always been a little ridiculous and also rather sad. He remains an egomaniac throughout, though.
  • Peter Campbell of Mad Men. Sure, he's an obsequious little jerk who is looking for any opportunity to take advantage of any tiny opening. He's a total jerk to ANY and ALL women and he's so passive aggressive that it's sickening. And yet he's almost sympathetic because he's a constant failure with puppy dog eyes.
    • That was Season 1. Then Character Development kicks in. I'm not going to spoil the details, but by Season 4, he's possibly the single most sympathetic (in the sense that "you actually like him because he's a good guy") character on the show.
    • Peter becomes sympathetic when one realizes that he is trapped in the system just as much as the other main characters. His delusions are crushed at the end of season 1 and he realizes that being a jerk will not get him anywhere in the firm. He is much more humble after this and stops being a villain.
  • Wiseguy. Mark Volchek runs the town of Lynchboro, Seattle as a personal fiefdom. The OCB is sent in to investigate him, only to find that his big plan is merely to build a cryogenic storage hospital for the entire town in order to sate his own personal phobia of death.
  • Crossing the border to Real Life here. Smoking Gun: World's Dumbest Criminals features quite a few of these. From the guy who broke in a convenience store through the roof, but couldn't get back out, to the group of guys who broke into a department store and stole all the display models (which have no working components).
  • The Ferengi were introduced on Star Trek: The Next Generation as the new Big Bad. They really weren't, and so the writers made them more comical villains in stories like "Menage a Troi" and "Rascals". Eventually, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gave us Quark, an entirely sympathetic Lovable Rogue.
  • Col. Klink in Hogan's Heroes.
  • Governor Croque in Jack of All Trades has a role similar to Klink's in Hogan's Heroes. He's not all that bad a guy, but more to the point, any likely replacement would either be more intelligent (and thus more likely to figure out what Jack and Emilia are up to), more tyrannical (and thus more likely to inflict suffering on the innocent people of Pulau Pulau), or both.
  • Crowley in Supernatural doesn't always fit this trope, but he's had his moments. He seems to flip-flop between wanting to be a badass demon overlord and sincerely trying to be a lesser evil, and his success either way is somewhat mixed.
    • After his first (unsuccessful) effort at double-crossing Lucifer in Season 5, the next time he meets the Winchesters he's on the lam, protesting to the boys "They killed my cat! They ATE MY TAILOR!" Of course at this point he's also on their bad side, as his bad information got Jo and Ellen killed.
    • After he succeeded in becoming King of Hell in Season 6, when summoned by Bobby to address the matter of the latter's soul, he popped a couple of Alka-Selzer in lieu of his usual glass of Scotch, complaining about the difficulties of trying to better the lot of his hopelessly corrupt demon brethren.
    • And of course in Season 7 he winds up living in hiding in a rundown house trailer after being ironically double-crossed by Castiel, who takes on the monster souls they had been jointly trying to acquire and briefly assumes the role of God.
  • Much like the Ferengi, the Centauri of Babylon 5 in general (and Londo in particular) seem at first to be too backstabby to be much of a threat. Of course, then, Londo gets in bed with Morden, and the Centauri start the Second Shadow War; but then, when Londo goes back to Centauri Prime, it proves that the Centauri have been sad little pawns the whole time.


  • Dr. Einstein of Arsenic and Old Lace. At the very least, he's helped Jonathan escape from jail and evade the police. He probably has something to do with the latter's ability to be a contender in the play's Body Count Competition as well. However, he's clearly motivated by fear and spends a lot of time drunk. This may be the reason for his escape at the end.

Video Games


 Vyers: I see. So you saw my potential and decided to strike first against moi... Such wonderful intuition... Well played, son of Krichevskoy.

Laharl: I've never even heard of you. It's only a coincidence that we're here. You're just a tiny stepping stone on my path to the throne.

Vyers: * gasp* How dare you! I'm the Dark Adonis Vy...

Laharl: Who gives a damn about you? Your new name is "Mid-Boss".

Mid-Boss: M-m-mid-Boss!?

  • Solt and Peppor, the bumbling duo from Chrono Cross, fail continually to succeed at anything, even acting as combat tutorials for the main character, because of how ineffective their combat planning is.
    • Do know, though, that the final time you face them, they are properly tough bosses and will probably kick your ass by spamming Earthquake.
  • Rose, from Zack and Wiki, gets this in her second appearance. She gets frozen in ice and used as a statue!
  • Winston Payne from the Ace Attorney series, while not a villain, is a prosecutor, and therefore an antagonist. He was once the famous "Rookie Killer" who claims to have never lost a case in his first seven years as a lawyer, but lost one case along with his hair and, from then on, basically became a joke.
  • Dist from Tales of the Abyss certainly comes off as one, introducing himself as 'Dist the Rose' but ending up being called 'Dist the Runny'. In every fight, he sweeps in with an over-dramatic entrance and then gets made fun of immediately, usually by Jade, before his humiliating and undignified loss.
  • Pete from Kingdom Hearts II, and loads of it. Seems more like he just picked the wrong side.
    • Demyx arguably fits in the same category, especially in Days. All he wants to do is chill with his sitar, and Saix and Xemnas make him act evilly. Averted later when he puts up one hell of a fight.
  • Steambot Chronicles has Dudley, an obnoxious, tough-talking, muscle-brained trotmobile rider who the player runs into on about 4 occasions (3 during the main story and another in an optional encounter). While not necessarily a villain per se, the oaf constantly boasts about his strength and generally acts like a prick (he picks fights with anyone he can, destroys a farm just because "flowers are stupid", and think that a massive zeppelin is hoarding treasure). In the hero ending of the game, he can even be seen during the credits making what appears to be threatening gestures towards Vanilla (who is leaving on a ship for his homeland).
  • Halo has the Unggoy/Grunts, the main cannon fodder for the Covenant. Small (by Covenant standards), requiring gas masks to breathe in non-methane atmosphere, mistreated by the other races, they're slaves who come across as cowards. In large part because, fearing an uprising, the Covenant doesn't want to give them any actual combat training. Half the fandom feels sorry for them. The other half loves to slaughter them. Averted in Halo3 and Halo3: ODST: there, they take so many levels in badassery.

Web Animation

  • Burnt Face Man's entire Rogues Gallery, whose nefarious schemes include harassing him over MSN and stealing his submarine (he doesn't have one, the plot was randomised). Taps Man splashes his opponents with water. "Hot, and cold. Hot, and cold, and a combination of them, which I call 'HOLD'."
    • Despite that, Taps Man managed to kill Burnt Face Man's rival, Slightly Bruised Man, with a spray of scalding water, followed with tepid water with lead piping and a faulty boiler.
  • Strong Bad, most of the time. On the rare occasion the mischief he gets up to is more serious than Poodle Poking, he's likely to fail pretty miserably at it. It's just as well, though, as the local approach to law enforcement is just as pathetic.
  • While O'Malley from Red vs. Blue occasionally has moments of true villainy, far more often, he is completely, thoroughly, and utterly ineffectual throughout the Blood Gulch Chronicles. How much of this is him and how much is actually due to him being in the head of Doc, the pacifist medic is up for debate, but the fact still remains that his evilness generally consists of wacky plots to destroy the universe and illegally downloading music, and his robot army fails miserably because...well, let's just say that when he requested a robot army to take over a base in a day, he didn't expect that it would literally have to take exactly 24 hours for the robots to do it!



  [Y]our penchant for mass murder notwithstanding, people tend to regard you as a BIT OF A TOOL.

      • Eridan really doesn't count as an example; it's later revealed that he really doesn't care about killing people, he's just doing it to stay close to his crush.
      • Eridan becomes a full-on subversion when he loses both the "sympathetic" and "ineffectual" parts in Act 5 Act 2. The crush mentioned in the above line? He killed her as he leapt across the Moral Event Horizon.
      • Though he switches right back to ineffectual when Kanaya comes back from the grave as a vampire and effortlessly fells him. Like a tree.
    • Jack Noir starts as this. Later into the story...he's significantly less ineffectual or sympathetic.
  • Dr. Kinesis in Evil Plan. His technology gets stolen, the other villains laugh at him, and on his minions' first mission, they bump into a brand new superhero.
  • In El Goonish Shive, technically, Magus was apparently behind the v-five Elliot incident, and tried to manipulate Ellen within some plot that sounds quite dubious. And is not very good at this. But he's in desperate straits, which isn't even his own fault (unlike Abraham's case). And he's still reluctant to kill a guy who stands in his way even when pushed hard to do it.

Web Original

  • Dr. Horrible of Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog, portrayed as a decent fellow with evil ambitions and a crush on a girl from his laundromat, while also being bullied around by Jerk Jock superhero Captain Hammer.
    • He even qualifies as a Well-Intentioned Extremist; he thinks Utopia Justifies the Means and a benevolent dictatorship would do that. Kind of like the Brain.
    • Interestingly, at the very beginning, he gets a letter from a would-be superhero calling himself Johnny Snow. Horrible immediately makes it seem as if Snow is an Ineffectual Sympathetic Hero. Then we read the prequel comics and see how Johnny Snow single-handedly stopped the entire Evil League of Evil while Captain Hammer was out of town. It turns out that he's also a Gadgeteer Genius. That "ice beam" which is so "Johnny Snow" that Horrible mentions in his song was actually used by Snow.
      • "Stops" is kind of the wrong word here. The League was planning to pour poison in the watermain For the Evulz, and Johnny Snow stopped them by freezing the water, leaving millions without water. The ELE approved and went on to do more evil, with Johnny crying that he's a good guy.
    • Dr. Horrible's main problem with Johnny Snow is that Snow wants to set himself up as a nemesis, when the doctor has much more personal reasons for reserving this for Captain Hammer.
  • Lee Phillips from Kate Modern, during his brief time as a villain. He is perfectly serious in his plot to revenge himself on Gavin and Tariq, but is overshadowed by the arrival of far more threatening antagonists such as Kate's Watcher and Terrence.
  • Voldemort in Potter Puppet Pals. Taken to ridiculous extremes when Harry has Hagrid beating up every character that bothers him. Voldemort tries to kill Harry, and Harry just leaves without even bothering to have him knocked out.

 Voldemort: Ah! Harry! Avada Keda-

Harry: No time to chat, Voldemort! (runs off)

Voldemort: Every time I try to kill him...

  • Dr. Insano...sometimes.
  • On a less mass-homicidal note, The Nostalgia Critic. He's pretty just a damaged little boy with a gun and temper tantrums at his disposal.
  • While she worms her way out of trouble much more successfully than the Critic and could dominate the world if she got her mind fixed, The Nostalgia Chick is still just a shut-in alcoholic who'll never make anything of her life.
  • Kami Steele of Survival of the Fittest Spin-Off The Program seems to fit on and off, depending on the thread. Her first appearance had her pointing a gun Gangsta Style at a girl with the intent to kill her, but ran away over being yelled at by said girl, who had started to poke holes in her plans. She has since started a body count, but still has her moments of incompetence. One could also make a case for Version 4's Jimmy Brennan, up until he beat Philip Ward to death with a branch. Prior to that, though, he definitely qualified due to his attitude.
  • SCP-1370 of the SCP Foundation. An Omnicidal Maniac in personality, in ability it's completely harmless.

Western Animation

  • The My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Owl's Well That Ends Well" involves the usually-good dragon cub Spike temporarily becoming a villain, but definitely of the "ineffectual sympathetic" variety, with the emphasis on "sympathetic". For context, when an owl named Owlowicious shows up to do some of the work Spike had been typically doing for the girls, Spike ends up getting less attention from them than before, and in turn, resents the owl a fair bit. After being scolded by Twilight for lying about a book not being there, he thinks the owl set him up, and in turn, tries to do the same to the owl, by planting a fake dead mouse with ketchup blood in Twilight Sparkle's room; he gets caught in the act. After running away, ending up encountering a dragon while gone, and then being saved from the dragon by Twilight and the owl, he apologized for the way he was behaving and is back to being one of the good guys.
    • Except in the episode "Secrets of My Excess", however this time, Spike is transformed into a gargantuan rampaging beast that almost completely demolishes Ponyville. Even then he may lean into this since it's all for the sake of hoarding "gifts".
    • Most of the Rogues Gallery for the show act as this or mere petty bullies. The foes used in the two part specials are the only notable exceptions, and even then their detrmimental arrogance and the often humiliating manner they are taken out almost makes you pity them.
  • Harley Quinn of Batman the Animated Series tended to fall into this trope, especially when she caught on as a popular character:
    • Harley was often treated as genuinely misguided, so the audience sometimes forgave her for her more violent behavior depending on how softening a particular episode was.
    • In the comic-turned-episode "Mad Love", Harley did manage to succeed in trapping Batman. Batman's only hope was to have her inform The Joker, who he knew would free Batman because it wasn't HIM that defeated Batman! Batman even admitted that Harley came closer to killing him than the Joker ever did. Harley also suggested just shooting Batman, instead of elaborate death traps. Ironically, at the end of the episode, Harley almost succeeded in killing Bats with an elaborate death trap, while the Joker, who previously slapped Harley for even suggesting such a thing, tried simply shooting him...and failed.
    • Also from TAS, Baby Doll is probably one of the most sympathetic characters in Batman's Rogues Gallery. She kidnaps her former TV co-stars, but just to yell at them for abandoning her and forcibly reenact the show. She Took a Level In Badass as time went on.
    • The Superfriends incarnation of Scarecrow qualifies for this trope, as well. To quote the Legion of Doom's leader, when naming the villains' "dangerous super powers" in a Cartoon Network bump:
  • The Amoeba Boys in The Powerpuff Girls. While the Powerpuff Girls are out beating up real criminals, the poor Amoeba Boys can't get the girls' attention, despite committing heinous acts such as littering, jaywalking, and disobeying a "Keep off the grass" sign.
    • In one of the early World Premiere Toon shorts, the Girls actually commit a bank robbery solely to show the Boys how it's done. When the Girls are brought in for the crime, the boys turn themselves in, in an attempt to appear "big time".
    • In another, during the actual series, the Boys stumble upon Mojo Jojo's Death Trap plans, and they, along with the Girls, mistake it for a "scavenger hunt" — so they find all the things it calls for and put it together, and once it's assembled, the Girls think it's a theme-park ride, so they willingly submit to the plan intended to destroy them.
    • In another episode, the Boys catch a cold while loitering on the grass in yet another attempt at crime. Even though they end up unwittingly mutating the cold into a deadly strain of virus and even more unwittingly starting an epidemic in Townsville, the viewers still can't help but feel sorry for them.
    • And in another episode, they manage to actually succeed at stealing an orange, for once, and when it splits apart, are reminded that, as amoebae, they are capable of multiplying. There is quickly an army of them, and the only thing they can think to do is to steal all the oranges in Townsville (although this does cause the citizens to contract scurvy).
  • The Toilenator from Codename: Kids Next Door badly wants to be a villain, but is far too wimpy and incompetent to pull it off. He's a minor inconvenience to the KND, and most of the bad guys try not to be seen with him because of his clingy Bumbling Sidekick personality.
    • He's Not So Harmless though, as he's able of using his "toilet powers" to "flush" the entire Grand Canyon with milk.
  • Odlaw in the animated series Where's Waldo? (Where's Wally?). As so many bad things keep happening to him in the name of comedy, and all he ever wants is to commit a single act of theft, you have to feel for the guy. Also, his determination is admirable!
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, Jack Spicer, despite being the main villain in some cases, is usually an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, especially in the later episodes.
    • This is reinforced by Jack being probably the only fictional character, let alone villain, to have a breakdown failing to interrogate a parrot that simply repeated everything he said.
  • With one exception (The Phantom Limb) and, in later episodes, The Monarch, all the villains on The Venture Brothers are of this nature.
    • Most of them are of the Not So Harmless type. It's shown that the reason OSI and such tolerate the supervillains' stupid games is that it keeps them from committing real crimes or blowing up cities. (Those who don't play the game have to deal with SPHINX.) The Monarch, in particular, is a special case. When he was taken off of Dr. Venture, he was unhappy with the normal game and proceeded to kill 5 heroes in a short time.
    • Doctor Mrs. The Monarch is the most competent villain and, quite possibly, the most competent character on the entire show. Even the Sovereign of the Guild respects her.
    • Doctor Killinger's entire reason to exist seems to be to snap out villains from this trope and into Not So Harmless instead.
  • Many Looney Tunes villains:
    • Wile E. Coyote. In fact, one of the laws of the Road Runner cartoons is "The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote."
    • It's very difficult to hate the likes of Marvin the Martian and Elmer Fudd.
    • Yosemite Sam was actually a deliberate subversion of the trope, because audiences were starting to favor Elmer too much. The idea was to feel sorry for the guy, but it was getting to the point where Bugs was starting to look like a relentless bully instead of a wiseacre outwitting the buffoon who was trying to victimize him. Sam was both smarter and more belligerent than Elmer, meaning that Bugs was free to lead him on all he wanted. But even Yosemite Sam, while pretty dark for a Looney Tunes villain, was still fairly ineffectual compared to the average non-Looney-Tunes villain.
    • Daffy Duck, initially just a Screwy Squirrel or Anti-Hero, eventually evolved into one for Bugs Bunny and Speedy Gonzales.
    • Nasty Canasta and Rocky the gangster, initially more fearsome subversions of this trope, eventually devolved into hopeless foils for Bugs as well.
  • Sideshow Bob also frequently veers into this territory. The poor guy can't even win against a rake.
  • Waspinator from Transformers: Beast Wars is one of these, being a Chew Toy on the side of the bad guys.
    • Ditto for Sky-Byte and his Team Rocket in Transformers Robots in Disguise. Except that Sky-Byte would actually be leadership material if only a few things were different. It's just that he lacked the only two qualities that really mattered for a leader: aptitude and intelligence.
  • Prince Zuko in the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The second season puts him in Anti-Villain status, with him and his Uncle spending more time being fugitives from the Fire Nation than trying to capture Aang, along with having Character Development and Enemy Mine "moments" as sprinkles. And then, about halfway in the final season, said "moments" are what causes Zuko to become Aang's ally. Then, in the series' ending, he becomes the new Fire Lord, with things getting better and better for him, effectively inverting this trope at that point.
  • Frisky Dingo's Killface is a pseudo-cultured, incompetent supervillain whose plans are often derailed by trivial matters and lacks knowledge of common subjects (it's a revelation to him that P.C. stands for "personal computer"). He's still more likable than "hero" Xander Crews, though.
    • Killface is so sympathetic, especially when compared to Jerkass Designated Hero Xander Crews, that it's easy to forget that he brutally killed two people in the pilot and has added to his body count throughout the series. It helps that some of the other members of the cast have committed similar misdeeds and/or are Asshole Victims.
  • Invader Zim qualifies for this trope most of the time; more often than not, his schemes are thwarted by the Ditz portion of his Genius Ditz personality, rather than by his arch-nemesis or his Cloudcuckoolander robot. Of particular note is the episode where he survives a Training From Hell in order to receive some Humongous Mechas from his leaders, only to be shot into a sun for his troubles.
  • Karl anyone. The commercials for the next episode suggest he'll join the heroes so he can keep up with everyone else.
  • Professor Chaos/Butters is so inept that it's cute.
  • Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible never gets the respect he thinks he should have; he always fails his capers, sometimes even without the help of Team Possible. He often gets mistaken for the more respected Dementor and, at the end of the series, he is outright told how much of a failure of a villain he has been (despite having come closer to taking over the world than any of his peers, and ending up with much of the credit for saving the world from the Alien Invasion). If it wasn't for his Dragon, Shego, he wouldn't be a villain at all.
    • Arguably, every villain in Kim Possible is like this, aside from Shego, who's the only one with any amount of competence or fighting ability.
      • Keeping Shego on HIS payroll should be considered extremely competent, especially when there are villains like Senor Senior Senior, who has Scrooge McDuck levels of moolah.
  • Cobra Commander, who was constantly mocked, ignored, or pushed aside not only by other would-be world conquerors, but by his own minions.
    • Of course, he was never anything but effective and unsympathetic in the comics, where, among other things, he killed his own son. Oh, and he used to be a used car salesman, the fiend!
      • He does get the ineffectual part still - sometimes as part of a Plan, sometimes because it's an imposter performing poorly. And sometimes, Destro just plain doesn't like him, and is willing to take the loss just to make him look bad, mostly because of his 'thing' for the Baroness.
    • The miniseries G.I. Joe: Resolute is also a subversion. Cobra Commander actually has a speech where he claims his previous incompetence was just an attempt to force his minions to think outside the box. He wipes Moscow from the face of the Earth just to prove that he could, and by the end of the series, he's so unhinged that he's hacking his own men apart with a sabre. His plan still failed, of course, but holy shit was he badass.
  • While he started off as a Badass and a walking Crowning Moment of Awesome, by the end of Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung had become this due to a combination of Freudian Excuse, Sympathy for the Devil, revealing his Start of Darkness and "Well Done, Son" Guy status, and an Et Tu, Brute? from his past. This may have something to do with the Humiliation Conga and Kick Them While They Are Down which some viewers see in the final battle--it certainly can't be denied that what had once been a chillingly effective villain seemed rather pathetic and easily defeated, Po's understanding of the Dragon Scroll notwithstanding.
    • Of course, after his Arrogant Kung Fu Guy resume is firmly established and he has shamelessly brutalized the entire rest of the cast, others see this as simple Kharmic retribution. Pride goeth before the fall, after all, and a Humiliation Conga was really no less than Tai Lung deserved at that point.
  • The battle droids in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an entire army of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains.
    • Until they start gunning down unarmed pacifist, cracking open escape pods so the helpless people on board will die in space, and Zerg Rushing that is.
  • Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants. After a while, you just start to feel sorry for the guy. It's more prominent in the post-movie episodes, where he could easily be one of the Trix Rabbit's drinking buddies. Granted, he gets a Not So Harmless moment in the movie, but still...
    • Most of the time, it seems that he just wants some manner of success. In the cruel Yank the Dog's Chain episode "Plankton's Regular", after getting just one regular customer, he immediately stops trying to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula.

 Plankton: Alright Krabs! Now hand over the secret formula!

Krabs: Or...What?

Plankton: I don't know. I never thought I'd get this far.

  • Grizzle of Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot.
    • Of the primary villains of the earlier series, No-Heart and his niece Shreeky don't count. No-Heart was a legitimately powerful and evil sorcerer who had a habit of blasting Beastly with lightning bolts whenever he screwed up; and while Shreeky never actually did anything evil, she was a Spoiled Brat with a voice so loud that she made No-Heart wince. Mr. Beastly, No-Heart's primary lacky, definately fits somewhere between here and Butt Monkey. In the one episode that Beastly had, with him in the spotlight, him infuriates No-Heart by breaking No-Heart's crystal amulet (which is the source of his shapechanging spells), then breaks No-Heart's throne (something he knows No-Heart will be livid about), get turned into a horrific mishmash of animals while using No-Heart's broken amulet to catch some of the Care Bears, then be blackmailed into letting the Care Bears go after they tape-record him chanting a litany of "I care" to break the broken spell and be turned back to normal, and then, when No-Heart arrives, having calmed down due to finding an even more powerful crystal, he sits on his crudely repaired throne...and it breaks to pieces. Meaning more electroshocking for Beastly.
  • The Box Ghost of Danny Phantom draws the line between this and Harmless Villain. He has the potential to be a great baddie (if one episode and his badass future self is any indications), but he just never makes it. Out of all the ghosts Danny has fought, Box Ghost is strictly in the "Who Cares" category, but he tries, he oh so tries.
  • Dick Dastardly.
  • Voltar and the League of Super Evil. Guy is just so very motivated and happy about every plan or scheme he thinks up, no matter how trivial, that you just have to root for him. I mean, how many villains are ecstatic about throwing an 'EVIL' barbeque and not inviting their uncaring neighbors?
    • One of the episodes involves a highly convoluted plot by the make the pizza delivery boy late so that their food will be free!
  • Snively from Sonic Sat AM. He is a reedy and sneering little man who is always consumed by his Uncle Robotnik's quite massive shadow. Also, he's a baldy. However, he turns out to be Not So Harmless when he manages to slip out before his uncle is killed, and return as a The End - or Is It? cliffhanger for a season that we will never receive.
    • Nope, he was still going to retain this role. In one interview with screen-writer Ben Hurst regarding the third season that never arrived, it was revealed that Snively was going to take a shot at becoming the new Big Bad, only to be shortly upstaged by Ixis Naugus, and would later make a Heel Face Turn and join the Freedom Fighters.
  • Dr. Ivo Robotnik and his henchmen from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. While Robotnik often tries to do something rrrroten, he ALWAYS fails horribly, and Sonic torments the doctor so sadistically, that it becomes hard to sympathize with the heroes.
    • Even more so are his minions, Scratch and Grounder. While Robotnik could at least genuinely cook up a malicious plan every now and then, his duncebot's Wile E Coyote-esque traps hardly ever worked on anyone but themselves.
  • Jack W. Tweeg and his sidekick L.B. from The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin.
  • Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz could count as one of these. Sure, his plans are really not well thought out at all (which inexplicably cause their failure), but he had a terrible childhood, never wins any of his fights, is deprived of any chance at happiness he may receive, and, on top of all that, he can't even win a fight against a potted plant...You've got to feel sorry for the guy. Though perhaps he wouldn't be considered ineffectual, as he does serve to be a threat, if not for being thwarted at the hands of his platypus nemesis every time. Still, that episode where he is no longer considered a threat and Agent P is relocated to a different nemesis might show that he is, indeed, one of these.
  • Sandman in The Spectacular Spider-Man can never quite get his big score. Before his superpowers, Spider-man jokes about how many times he's been caught. After, he can actually fight Spidey, but then proceeds to forget or be unable to keep his take when he escapes down the drain. He also gets a couple of Pet the Dog moments when it's revealed that while he cares a lot about the Big Score, he doesn't really want to hurt anybody (other than Spider-man, of course).
  • The Lobe, archnemesis of the titular character in Freakazoid. Despite being fiendishly brainy (quite literally - pretty much his entire head is made up of brain), he's extremely sensitive and insecure, and Freakazoid was once able to defeat him with nothing more than some harsh verbal criticism of his scheme.
  • Dr. Reginald Bushroot of Darkwing Duck. He mutated himself in an attempt to impress a girl. When that went about as well as expected, most of schemes throughout the series involved trying to grow a companion or feed his plants. He certainly seemed like a nice enough guy most of the time, only turning violent when Darkwing tried to stop his plans.
  • Hack and Slash, the bumbling minions of Megabyte, in Re Boot. In fact, they are justified in being bad guys by the fact that the heroes always stop them before they could do anything really awful. When the heroes fail to arrive to stop them from killing a traitor to Megabyte, they let him go off on their own and undergo a Heel Face Turn.
  • Skeletor in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was so ineffective that the writers felt sorry for him. One stated in an interview that part of the reason they wrote a few Enemy Mine episodes was that it was the only way they were allowed to have Skeletor come out ahead for once.
    • His 2002 incarnation, on the other hand, was every bit as powerful, terrifying, and evil as he claimed to be.
  • Control Freak from Teen Titans. Despite being able to animate the inanimate to do his bidding and inadvertantly altering television frequencies to literally rot people's brains, he STILL didn't get on the Titans' list of main villains.

 Control Freak: The Puppet King?! They fought him ONCE!!


Real Life

  • While they are often portrayed this way in fiction, Italian Fascists were neither ineffectual nor sympathetic. Just ask any of the people who tried to oppose Mussolini and his politics before World War II. Dissidents were often beaten within an inch of their lives, force-fed castor oil, and sent into exile on deserted islands. It's just that that's kid stuff compared to the other forces of evil we were fighting against — or alongside of — during that same war.
    • They just barely managed to conquer a tribal African country that had 19th century military technology. And that was the height of their military achievements.
      • That doesn't change the fact that they were a danger to Italian opposers of their regime. Regardless of how (un)successful they were at fighting other countries, being an inspiration to Hitler and siding with him during the second World War hardly makes Italian Fascists sympathetic (at least, up until the point at which the Allies invaded Italy, and the Italian soldiers stood at the sidelines, watching their country being torn apart by fights that they no longer participated in; but before that, they were just ineffectual, not sympathetic).
      • "Good soldiers, bad officers" is how Rommel described the Italians, and as for how ineffectual they were, one of his other quotes was "The German soldier has impressed the world, however the Italian Bersagliere soldier has impressed the German soldier".
        • Of course, seeing that an army's capacity to organize, plan, and cause its various elements to cooperate efficiently is more important than individual competance, it's still not the makings of a very good military, as Italy's entire post Roman military history shows.
  • The bank robber who was caught when he got "trapped in" the bank he was robbing...when he didn't try to pull the door open, and only pushed it. He was in there for about five minutes before the cops showed up.
  • Warren Taylor seems to have found a way to combine this trope with Terrorists Without a Cause. He stormed into a small-town post office, placed what appeared to be a bomb on the counter, and took three people hostage. At that point, he didn't seem to know quite what to do. Over the following eight hours, he issued two demands: a pizza to share with his hostages, and a pack of cigarettes for a hostage who smoked. In the end, he made his way outside and surrendered peacefully, eventually apologizing during his arraignment for getting everybody out on Christmas.
  • Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, better known as Baghdad Bob and Comical Ali (the latter being a reference to "Chemical Ali", the nickname of the much more effectively evil former Iraqi Defence Minister Ali Hassan al-Majid) gained fame and memetic status during the second Iraq War on account of his hilarious Blatant Lies about American forces, which were generally contradicted by things visible directly behind him.
    • So notorious was he that when a comic showed an American soldier walking into the frame behind him and making bunny ears, this troper's entire US Navy shop had to see if he'd actually been taken off the air by the same soldiers that he claimed were not in the city.
  • Kim Jong Il in this video.
  • This robber. Prepare to laugh.
  • How about this one?
  • Or this:
  1. (Though really, Spike was just temporarily a villain during the episode that originated the quote.)
  2. Keep in mind that she says he's capable of murder. He doesn't actually do it.